Building at the Speed of Light in Pharr, Texas - Episode 518 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by two representatives from Pharr, Texas (pop. 79,000), which has embarked on a citywide fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network build that is seeing strong local support and fast progress in recent months. Jose Pena is the IT Director for the city, and and Guillermo Aguilar works as a Partner at Brownstone Consultants, which is serving as a project manager for the network build. Jose and Guillerma talk with Christopher about the impetus for TeamPharr, the municipal effort which formally kicked off in 2017 with a feasibility study.

Jose and Guillermo share how the city moved to a fixed wireless pilot project on the southern part of town a few years ago before extending the network to a collection of city parks and then making the commitment to a full citywide buildout in 2020. They detail their early work in the state, which places some barriers in front of communities looking to take their telecommunications future into their own hands, and the help they got from Mont Belvieu (which also runs its own network). Jose and Guillermo share the phenominally fast progress the team has made, from finishing the design phase in September of last year, to connecting the first household in January 2022, to passing 70 percent of premisestoday.They also talk about their work to offer subscribers low pricing tiers ($25 and $50/month for symmetrical 500 Mbps and gigabit service, respectively) and their efforts to help households sign up for the Affordable Connectivity Program.

Check out the videos at the bottom of this story for more about why Pharr undertook the project and the progress the city has made so far.

This show is 40 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed

Transcript below. 

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.


Jose Pena (00:07):

Obviously there's multiple methods of deploying fiber, right? That's great. Right? And, and that's the decision every community needs to make. Again, they're all excellent models. Hey, I, I'd like to see all the communities do something and try to find a solution that makes sense for them.

Christopher Mitchell (00:23):

Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcasts. I am Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in St. Paul, Minnesota. And today I'm speaking with, with two folks that are doing a pretty special project down in Texas, and not just in Texas, but one of the southern most reaches of Texas, where I'm sure it's much hotter there today, <laugh> than it is in my hometown. speaking with Jose Pena, who is the IT director at the City of Pharr in Texas. Welcome.

Jose Pena (00:56):

Thank you for having us. We are very excited and you know, we love to talk about what we're doing and we hope to eventually enlighten and, and, and show other communities what we're doing. And hopefully we can be a model that they, if they like our concept of our project can, you know, follow up with questions and we're open to work with anybody.

Christopher Mitchell (01:17):

That's wonderful. And I think, I think people are gonna wanna follow up with you on this when they get a sense of, of how this project is not just sort of a standard project if there is one in the municipal space, but is, is quite unique. we also have the project manager on the, on the show who is Guillermo Aguilar, who is a partner at Brownstone Consultants. And like I said, he doesn't actually work for the city, but he's a project manager and I'm sure they call it TeamPharr, and I'll bet he's considered to be a strong member of the team. So welcome to the show, Guillermo.

Guillermo Aguilar (01:49):

Thank you so much. Christopher, we are honored to be a part of this project and seeing how far has taken the leadership, not just in South Texas, but as the word gets out as we'll, say, goes to these national conferences and shares the far the TeamPharr story and that of our region, which traditionally is one of the most underserved regions of the United States. again, we've provided what we think is we've just built a better mouse trap, right? And it's exciting to share our story. So thank you again.

Christopher Mitchell (02:17):

Yes. My colleague DeAnne is in San Antonio, and she often speaks of the areas around there as lacking service. I know that there's talk about rural areas around you, although far itself has a lot of folks, 80,000 people you have that that major bridge that connects you to Mexico and, and brings, I've saw in one of your videos all that produce that, that probably I'm meeting today, <laugh> in the Midwest. and so you're a sizable town, but you are not well connected and, and there's many rural areas around you. I'd like to just sort of throw that out there so you don't have to, but what other details should we know, Jose, about your area as we're as we start to describe what you're doing?

Jose Pena (02:58):

Again, you touched on the underserved area. You know, us as a region here in South Texas, the digital Inclusion Alliance report, I believe came out 2019 that found the city of far as the number one worst connected city in the country, you know, but our neighbors next door actually made the top five or top 10 as well. You know, we have a Harlingen here next door to us, as well as the city of Bronzeville, which everybody knows now because of SpaceX being there in town. But we now all have started broadband initiatives, you know, and it's one of those things where it's been wonderful that, you know, the city of far actually can say was one of the first ones who started pursuing this and actually are actually implementing. And, you know as we speak, we're actually already starting installing customers. So it's great to see us move forward as a community and, and be able to help our residents.

Christopher Mitchell (03:55):

Now, you, you've mentioned, and, and I've heard it in a couple of places, that that's ranking as you being one of the, the worst connected cities in that that study motivated you, but I think you even had this raising up as an issue. I think your mayor may have made it a priority even before then, right?

Jose Pena (04:12):

Correct. Ever since our mayor got elected I believe in 2015, that was one of his priorities. You know, he wanted to solve the homework gap and the you know, be able to put everybody in a level playing field education-wise, because that's something he pushes a lot. Education. It's working with our E D C. they had started a project. They had already started working with the federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and some other school districts and nonprofit organizations actually had gotten our feasibility study, I believe, in 2017, which is around the time I came on board. And you know, that helped us identify our gaps in our areas. And, and since then we had started a pilot project and our a EDC and our city invested money and procuring equipment, and we were able to deliver internet to 50 homes to start our pilot project, which we then worked on. And, and we could see the improvement with our students who, again, were the homes that we targeted their improvement. So, you know, it was something we had started since 2017, 2018, you know, and then Covid happened, and that just kind of moved us forward on, we had to do more, right. And we had to move. How do we get to a full scale production project?

Christopher Mitchell (05:32):

Can I ask about the pilot project? it's one of those things that I feel like non-technical people or like, oh, well, let's just do a pilot. one of the challenges that we've heard from more technical people is that you know, you have a lot of costs that are that are expected to be, you know, shared by hundreds or thousands of users. And if you're just gonna do that for 50 people it can be kind of not economical. So how did you make that work?

Jose Pena (05:58):

I would say we didn't spend too, too much money at least, you know, back in those days. I mean, equipment wasn't ex as expensive and as a scarce resource as suppliers nowadays. But, you know, we worked with a local wireless architect here in our region who helped us implement it through a wireless connectivity. So we had a base station installed at our, at our fire department that we had in that area of south part of town, south far. we put those antennas there, and then the homes had another receiver receiving antenna, which then got wired to a modem with wireless inside their home. I wanna say we probably at most spent $80 to $90,000 and deployed all this equipment between the towers and the homes. And, but again, it was still wireless connectivity. we are probably getting about 25 megabits to the house, but at least there was service delivering it inside the home which is, you know, what we are trying to target.


But even with that, you know, we found the pros and cons with everything, right? Wireless connectivity, you know, is, is not as strong as a signal as we'd like, and, you know, but it was a great start. And we actually followed that concept of our antennas, and we then deployed a public safety community park project, which we use the same technology and deployed it to other towers, and we're able to deliver wireless coverage at all our city parks. And we also installed surveillance cameras for safety around all the gathering areas of city parks, as well as installed emergency call boxes. And that was another great initiative that we were able to provide using the same concept of wireless communication with towers. But we knew that wasn't a long term as far as to deliver a high quality service to a home.


You know, we know we had to be hardwired, and we looked at options. But again, once Covid happened, you know, we, we wanted to be able to move forward, but make the best decision possible, not just a quick fix or something for the short term. We wanted the, a long term solution. And, you know, in reviewing all the different options, you know, that's where we got to where the model that we're following, it was very, very good learning experience, and it did help a lot of families. And, you know, we can kind of see with some of those videos we've published. Yeah, it was a wonderful experience.

Christopher Mitchell (08:35):

Well, and I think the, there's the technical issue that you certainly faced, and then also a legal issue in Texas. And I think, you know, Guillermo, you might wanna come in on this one too, but I'm, I'm curious, when you first started thinking about going down this route I, I suspect Mont Bellevue had been being built, and so you had a sense that some cities in Texas had the authority, but there's a widespread belief that the law is stronger in Texas in terms of outlawing broadband. it certainly seems to outlaw some telecommunications services. but I'm just curious, how did you grapple with that? And was that a concern at all?

Jose Pena (09:12):

just learning about all this stuff. We did work, like I said, through with our E D C and with our local school district which is how we were communicating through our, you know, in that initial pilot study, which is working with them, getting the list of students who were low income qualifiers so that we could target their homes to provide them the service. But, you know, when and when we fully started looking at our long term, that's when we really started looking at what's the feasibility of this being done. And that's when again, when Brownstone was on board and when we're finalizing and working with our engineering group that actually came and partnered with us to do the engineering design, you know, that's who, then they referred us and we heard of Mont Belvieu. Mont Belvieu had, has, and had really great people there, you know, they're very welcoming.


And I actually visited their town last year, you know, we wanted to know, Hey, what are we getting into, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, Hey, what is this? Our city offering internet services and, and, you know, building a call center and deploying fiber to the home. We visited them. They're very welcome, welcoming we're able to go and schedule A and participate in a site visit installation. And we learned a lot from them. They were able to also help push that barrier down in regards to the court rulings that, you know, in Texas, broadband is considered a utility, you know, and not a telecommunication service has helped us. And that's paved the way for other municipalities to, to be able to move forward and consider options. And again, there's lots of different models mm-hmm. <affirmative> of deploying a network and helping your communities. We basically did follow the Mont Belvieu standard, which is a full service, fully maintained, run and operated network owned by the city.

Guillermo Aguilar (11:09):

So the only thing I'd like to add to that is I don't think we can say enough about how much Mont Belvieu helped us. you have a gentleman who is a former Navy Seal as city manager, just used to breaking paradigms, doing things that people say is not possible. So they really spearheaded this in, in our opinion, my opinion at least. obviously co benley, the design engineer had the foresight to bringing them on board. And really again, Dwight Thomas, not enough could be said about him either. Just a, a brilliant person with respect to network design, an e an even better person. So them being so amicable and open and helping us out, that kind of has, has paved the way and, and set the standard for Jose and, and our group to do the same thing and paint it forward. So we're now advising even loosely pro bono on, on multiple projects, multi-billion dollar fiber project, which again, I've never thought I'd say eight months ago. But again, those are the type of things that, that they entrusted in us to, to pay forward again, to, to others.

Christopher Mitchell (12:10):

Excellent. Yes. And it's, it's really exciting to see, and I, and I can't stress enough that there really are people matter in this, that the way they help each other out, and the way that I see that you're then willing to, to pay that forward, like you just said, to, to share with others.

Guillermo Aguilar (12:25):

It, it's all about partnerships. Christopher the National Broadband Association brought us, took us under their wing Scott Jackson with Graybar just everybody, Gary Bolton. They've, they've been amazing. Put us in contact with the right people, and it's all about that, just good people that are fair businessmen and women that wanna do the right thing. And that's what this is all about. Yes.

Christopher Mitchell (12:46):

Excellent. So, so anyway, you're, you're inspired then by this, and, and you're not sufficiently intimidated, perhaps <laugh>. And so you decided to move forward with a full fiber to the home. I think it's important to note something that that you had, you told me, Jose, when we, we were planning this, which is that because of poverty in the area all of the schools have a large number of people that use the school lunch program. And so every household that's attached to the schools then qualifies for the a ccp. did was that important for your, your willingness to take this on?

Jose Pena (13:22):

Definitely. Again, that kind of speaks about the area that we live in, you know it's an area where, you know, we wanna be able to, to work with everybody and, and let alone our mayor understands that, you know, which is why, you know, we even started with building and deploying surveys. You know, we thought about different price points, and we surveyed the community and the price points, you know, everybody favored our particular, that that was the most important thing, affordability, because again, you know, we could have fiber services, but if still half of our population could not afford it, it's like you don't have it. Right? And, and you know, we wanted to get a very affordable price point, which is our edc and our mayor and our elected officials did a wonderful job. Our two residential plans is $25 for 500 megabits, up and down, as well as $50 for gigabit up and down.


And you know, and this is before these price points were done before ACP actually came out, which is you know, from the old EBB plan from last year, and then transitioning to a ACP this year, you know, it just so happened that, hey, we hit that magic number. And it was wonderful that, you know, now with a c p, that was some, a project I took on, on myself, and working with our grants department here in our city, which is, does an amazing job finding us resources. And you know, we're able to satisfy all the information that the FCC and A A C P required for us to become fully registered city. And it, it, it's been great just since we've posted that. We've got a lot more feedback. We're able to identify that 6,800 households within our zip code actually already make use of this funding, which is great because a, again we wanna continue spreading the message to our community for all the rest who don't know about it help 'em qualify. But, but yes, we do have three public school district within the city boundaries as well as two public charter schools as well. And again, all five of these school districts are part of the free school lunch program. And we've started working with them and notifying them as far as you know, helping us relay this information to the parents and, and facilitating those letters that the parents need in order to sign up for a c p.

Christopher Mitchell (15:57):

When I hear your price point the first thing I did was think, is that correct? Did I, did I hear that right? that is the most aggressive price point that I've seen in, in many years in terms of of affordability. And, and I think that's really impressive and, and needed. and I, you know, there are, I'm a champion of municipal networks, but many of them have felt that they could not set a price point that low even if they, they wanted to. I know that you don't want to get too much into the, the financials but when we were talking, you'd mentioned that you're getting some rescue plan money and that that's going toward the network. And I assume that that's somewhat helpful in paying off those those the, the, the fir the startup costs, basically, to get the network built out. but I, I wasn't sure if you, I mean, when I asked you about it, I think you said that you expect that you're gonna have so much of a take rate. So many will use the network that you'll be able to make it cash flow even at that rate.

Jose Pena (16:58):

that's correct. You know, and tho those are the numbers. Like I said I'm an IT person. I try to, I love working the technology aspect, but, you know, we have some wonderful individuals throughout our city with our legal, with our E D C, with our city managers, with our finance department. They, they're experts in their fields. And you know, in working at that price point and the number of customers and, and basically because of our price point, be able to bring and help a lot of these families before even a c p was, was an option for us. You know, for, for that. It's like, we just can't wait to finish as quickly as possible to be able to provide this service to everybody. because it will help us, you know, it's gonna make a really good impact on the, our education system.


It's gonna be a really good impact on our commercial businesses. It's gonna be a really good impact on our economic situations where now our residents are able to work from home and, you know, work for organizations anywhere in the country that allow remote work. And, you know, it's gonna help bring more people to town as well. And hopefully our town will flourish and, and you know, be a lot better off. But again the numbers, it's one of those things where we have our set number of customers we want to get to. And we also are big with our industrial customers as well. Like you mentioned, we do own and operate on an international bridge, and we work with them as well. And we wanna be able to supplement our city budget and be able to put more firefighters, more police officers on the streets. You know, we wanna be able to build more community parks which is another initiative our mayor brought, built, or doubled or tripled our park space since he's been in office. And you know, it's just, we want to be able to help the community improve and, and get better,

Guillermo Aguilar (18:59):

To use your words of not sufficiently intimidated. So our mayor, again, is an incredibly dynamic person. He's a physician childcare. And he the, the, the mayorship is, is almost, and I don't wanna say almost like a side gig, but you know, he, he operates on, on pediatrics all day long, and then he runs this incredibly dynamic city. So not only are we doing all these things that Jose just talked about, but we went to design in September of last year. We are 70% built out.

Christopher Mitchell (19:32):

<laugh> <laugh>

Guillermo Aguilar (19:34):

You, you in this, in this global supply chain environment with everything, but especially fiber Corning. And again, Corning's been amazing, but most of the, the big incumbent providers are not even taking on new clients, right? So again, it takes a team. it took the golet being thrown by the mayor, the commission, city manager leadership. again Jose's been very, very humble. well, are

Christopher Mitchell (19:57):

You, are you on the order of like 30,000 premises that you're passing? What's the, what's the rough number?

Guillermo Aguilar (20:03):

So we, we need to pass every single home within the city. It's, you know, depending on the count, whether it's multi-family or not, but 22,000 to 30,000 plus every single business as well. Literally, that's the mayor's mandate. I need a handhold in front of every single home in business within pretty much a

Christopher Mitchell (20:19):

Year. So, for, for people who, who are, are, have listened to this show for a while, but don't have a sense of that Longmont Colorado is a little bit bigger than that. Longmont had a bunch of fiber already in the ground, and they had a four to five year plan <laugh> to do what you're doing. And, and when you, when I was looking at it, I was thinking it was 18 months. I was thinking, that's aggressive to know that you're at 70% now, one year later. I, I feel like we do have to spend a minute talking about Graybar because <laugh> you know, we spent the last year talking about material shortages, and I wouldn't have thought this is

Guillermo Aguilar (20:53):

Possible. The mayor has, has given us a lot of tough, tough challenges, which the Pharr team has, has been up to task to meet, you know, whether it be parks, new fire stations, doubling, tripling, the bridge, the bridge traffic internationally. But this was the one that when he said, okay, I want this in one year I, I, for one, didn't know where to start, and I, I, I thought we need partners. So somebody somehow put us in touch with Graybar. Actually, it was confidently we started to develop a relationship with Scott Jackson and Eddie Shamp, and things just went from there. Again, Scott being on the National Fiber Board brought all their partners in, and we kind of said, okay, let's show America and the world what we can do, and then we'll just run with that. And, and as we like to say, as the group, it's just, let's just run it back. So different counties, cities, all around us are, are now looking at the model and wanting to replicate. So yeah, they, they, they've been phenomenal Corning. So Corning has 14,000 employees directly across our bridge that do the wiring and harnesses the moobs, et cetera, et cetera. Those then come across our bridge, go up to Houston, New York, et cetera, and you steal

Christopher Mitchell (21:58):

Some of them <laugh>.

Guillermo Aguilar (21:59):

Yeah. So that's basically what we're doing. We're intercepting some of that, that

Christopher Mitchell (22:03):

Holding them hostage for reels of fiber.

Guillermo Aguilar (22:06):

Yes. And the beautiful thing is, you might have seen in one of those videos that GrayBar and Corning have produced documenting this journey is we're gonna now start kicking fiber back over to Renoso, which is our sister city. And our goal is eventually to get back to the Reno, to the Corning plants and be able to get ultra high speed to them as well. So that's, that's the big picture vision that the mayor and, and our commission and city manager came up with.

Christopher Mitchell (22:28):

That's, that's remarkable. And then, and even through that, Jose, oh, let me ask you, Jose, if you wanted to add anything to that. Sure.

Jose Pena (22:33):

It, it's really like, like Guillermo mentioning, it's really this partnership. You know, we're all in this together. We're all gonna succeed together. nobody knows how to fail, be between all of us, you know that we all know that, hey, everybody has to be successful together, and we wanna be the model. We wanna be able to showcase that this can be done. And you know, it's working with our engineering and with Graybar, you know, as soon as these construction plan sets, high level designs are done, we come up with, you know, they, they come up with a, a estimated quantity volumes. And, you know, from there, we take it to city commission for buying procuring all the supply and the material and, and securing these orders, right? Which is the most important. people wanna make sure that, you know, you've issued purchase orders to them, and you're gonna satisfy and work with them and deliveries.


And, and believe me, we've gotten a lot of our construction material and there has been some products that had been backlogged. And, you know, that product actually now is kicking in, in massive quantities, which is almost just perfect when the time that we needed to finish the installation of all these neighborhoods. But again, all our partners, you know, who Graybar brought together it'd be blue Diamond or Hubble, or Position Corning, all these different partners that worked with all the solutions, you know, working together with brownstone and Cop family and associates, our engineering group, you know, and, and, and at the end of the day, you also have to have the right team together out in the field, which is where STX Underground our contractor really has taken this and run with it, right? The, they're the labor force, you know, they're the ones who are, they're force multiplier out in the field, you know, brownstone working with them and, and, and making sure everything's getting done. But at the end of the day, it's from point A to point Z. And everybody's got their, you know, their items to take care of

Guillermo Aguilar (24:43):

What I think is very important. That's maybe not unique to us, but it, it really shines with this very large group that s Jose and I just went through. There's a lot of mutual respect. There is never any screaming and yelling. There is never any pressure. It's just, Hey, guys, I'm gonna bind here. How can you help me with this? Yeah, we all get together, huddle up. And it is just, again, it is just beautiful to see this, we, we've heard horror stories about how stuff goes in, in, in the industry at large, or has been at times with, you know, seed level suite executives yelling at, at other seed level suite executives. There, there's none of that here. It's just again based on mutual respect. and we all help each other.

Christopher Mitchell (25:19):

Did you have a group that was meeting prior to working on this project? I mean, like, sometimes when I hear that level of, of, of, of like of just teamwork, it's because the group had been meeting once a month for years to just go over other, it challenges and share problems and that sort of thing. But Guillermo, you're shaking your head. This just came new.

Guillermo Aguilar (25:42):

So I again, aside from programming and FORTRAN and some other stuff, seatbelt plus 30 years ago in college, again, I I, I dig ditches that that's what I do for a living. I'm a construction manager and a project manager. So, and again, the mayor threw the gauntlet down and said, Hey, Jose, Guillermo, crew city manager, you guys have to build this in a year. No excuses, or, that's basically the mandate, or I get fired very nicely. But you know, that's, that's kind of the, the level of excellence that the mayor demands of all of us. So again, we just had to scramble and figure out how to make it work. And again, that's just something that, that's kind of part of that far ethos is that, again, failure is not an option. We're, we're gonna make it no matter what. So, no, there was no previous contact, no prior, but again, we, we started hitting up every event we could.


you know, we've, we've been on the road quite a bit, or on even the road even more now. Jose's gonna be a speaker at the Calix event in Las Vegas pretty soon here in front of two, three thousand people. And again, I, I, that's another one we needed to talk about is Calix. I think later on, just how easy that solution has been. I don't think people understand as complicated as a network like this is, if you pick the right partners, you use the right equipment. This is almost kind of like a plug-in play Lego type thing where just, you know, voila hit works. And then I think even we're astounded when we first went live on January 20th 2022,

Jose Pena (27:02):

Right? And yeah, to answer that question, no, I mean, it was really the only people internally was again, myself working with our E D C and with our director of external affairs there with our office of our mayor, you know, just looking at, Hey, let's come up with options internally just between us as to, hey, well, if we do wireless connectivity, well, here's the pros and cons. If we do, you know, a Middle Mile initiative well, here's the pros and cons, and it'll take us longer, and things like that. But when we engage Brownstone and Cal Finley, which are, were first to partners for this project, were like, Hey, we're looking either one year or two year, and it's either gonna be in-house or outsourced. You know, those were, we got four options, right. You know, and after looking at those, well, you know, we're, we're outsourcing and, and as far as our construction is going, and just we looked at all the different options, looked at all the different providers, and I think we made some very good decisions.


And we're are very happy with all our partners and everybody's being able to deliver product to us, you know, call has been amazing to work on, you know, with our systems teams here in our office, and with the equipment and getting us the products as well. Our network is kind of not complex, but a lot of redundancies built into it. You know, we have a lot of third party partners who we work with, and everybody puts their 2 cents in regards to, Hey, well, what's our point of failure? Okay, what's her, how do we satisfy that point of failure to make it, you know, go an extra level, right? Because again we built this public network you know, we're also working with Extreme Networks, so they're the foundation with their fabric networking design that is traversing this a hundred gig network internally. and then working with colleagues to deliver that home use service of delivering it from the data center to everybody's homes and the solutions that we're able to offer with their experience IQ and their, their Protect IQ modules all at no cost to our constituents. You know, it's been really good, you know everybody's been excellent and it's been great.

Guillermo Aguilar (29:31):

So you asked about finances earlier as well. So not only built out in pretty much a year, you know, slightly delayed beyond a year, but very, very fast, as you well know, for those of the, of you who are not as familiar with the industry, but also the cost. You were, you're incredulous to hear $25 for 500 up and down 50 for, for a gig symmetrical. So our pass through cost per home is significantly under what we see in the rest of the United States. there's been a lot of new projects announced just over the last couple weeks, and that's kind of one of the things that we do. We automatically calculate the, the, the pass through per home cost, really, really good labor costs not gouging anybody as far as overhead now that people have seen that they can, that they can make this $25, $30 model of work. Now you tie in a c p and it's basically giving free internet almost to everybody. So the entire region is now trying to follow FARs example on that.

Jose Pena (30:31):

Obviously, there's multiple methods of deploying fiber, right? They could be a full public private partnerships, you know, we've seen and, and know of other communities pushing, you know, where a third party private industry is gonna come in and they build it out, and that's great, right? And, and that's the decision every community needs to make. You know, there's others who build a, a, a an open access network, and then third party partners will deliver the last mile. And again, they're all excellent models. I say I, I'd rather see, you know, me as a person in technologies, like, Hey, I, I'd like to see all the communities do something and try to find a solution that makes sense for them, right? We did work with our EDC and we did work with some of the, the arpa funding to be able to, to secure funding for this project.


And you know, that's one of those things that, like I said, we have very smart financial people running our city who were able to make this project work. And, and, and that's how we did eventually be able to hit those price points, right? Because we're owning and operating everything in in-house, you know, we're not gonna be paying other than maintenance fees for the equipment we own to operate and, you know, keep using, but, you know, we're not paying any other fees to anyone else. You know, it's really gonna be owned and run by the city, which is, you know, exactly what Bey did.

Christopher Mitchell (32:03):

And I was just gonna say, and Dwight told me they came in quite below their expected costs of construction as well. So if you can, if you can hit that as well, then you're just it's basically home run after home run. can you gimme a sense of what people are saying that are using the network? is it, is it something that people are really enthusiastic about?

Jose Pena (32:23):

Definitely. You know, it's one of those where, you know, we have a few people who, who got filmed. So after we came from our conference at the fiber Broadband Association conference, you know, that's really a couple weeks after that we started, you know, with fully starting to deploy in our first neighborhood. And our media team was able to go out there and talk to a few residents and is on a video we posted. But, you know, the feedback has been really good. You know, they have no issues with it. you know, it's fast, it just works, right? You know, the coverage has been excellent. You know, we've, we installed in a home that, for our area, you know, we use a lot of cinder block in homes and exterior, but it, this home actually had cinder block walls inside that made the division, you know, it wasn't just Sheetrock and you know, two by fours, right? Like additional homes and, and things like that. But, you know, the lady's like, oh, yeah, it works throughout my home. And they just have a standard U four, wifi six router, which we provide at no cost and has no issues with coverage inside her home or outside her home, you

Guillermo Aguilar (33:35):

Know, with, with 30 devices. LA latched onto the IT as well.

Christopher Mitchell (33:39):


Jose Pena (33:39):

Yeah. Yeah. The, the, it, it's, and it's actually one of the very first resident we installed when we ran our very first trial to the home. And, and you know, and we selected that home because that household had five kids in going to, to school. You know, it's one of those where, you know, we just hear great things from them. And they do have, like I said, we have been very smart kids here in our area. You know, our, our regional education system does very well. I think we're ranked first throughout the different regional education systems here in the state. But again, we hope that this is gonna help them get better and like I said, hopefully build up our, our, our region and, and that others follow. But yeah, we've heard great things from everybody.

Christopher Mitchell (34:28):

I'll ask if there's anything else you wanna add before we close out the interview, but when last year it looked like the rescue plan dollars were not gonna be as easy to use for broadband solutions, particularly in areas where there may be cable coverage, even if it's unaffordable for most you know, it was Ramiro Gonzalez and, and the mayor of Brownsville who we were able to get in touch with through their partners lit communities who they were really helpful in with a coalition among other mayors across the country pushing the White House. And so, I'm just so excited. I know they're moving forward with the project. You're moving forward, and I actually, after I spoke with you the other day, Jose, I reached out to some folks in DC to say, I wanna let you know that the people who fought to make the changes, to make sure that that money would be able to be used by communities like Pharr.


They're using it and, and it's making a difference. And it's just, it's really great cuz sometimes I s a lot of our shows, we spend time talking about things that are broken, but it's just, it's terrific that we're able to take this you know, this, this epidemic pandemic and to make sure that we were getting help out to folks that traditionally have been left behind and to make sure that we can actually build a better future for, for those kids, make sure that they're getting their education. And so this is really hopeful.

Guillermo Aguilar (35:50):

May, may I highlight one really important stat that the state of Texas Compro comptroller's office, the BDO O office, which is running all this, so according to their recent studies that were issued week before last, 92% of South Texas is covered by internet of some sort. 42% of Texas as a whole has high speed. South Texas has only 12% high speed internet. Just a very, very, very neglected area with respect to this. So we do appreciate what led communities, what the mayor of Brownsville, what all our, our advocates have done, and you guys as well, right? I took some time to read through your website's, affiliated websites and whatnot. The outreach that y'all are doing is amazing, and then we thank you for that.

Christopher Mitchell (36:33):

Well, it's just, it's great knowing that people are out there doing something with it, <laugh>. So anything you wanna add, Jose?

Jose Pena (36:40):

You know, we hope to continue building this network and continue to deploy it to, to now to to, to the rest of our community. You know, we're still on in construction, right? So our project was divided into three sectors geographically because you know, to help build the network quicker. And you know, we're gonna be doing this, like I said, we just started with the home installations in our south south portion of town. And hopefully once construction finishes in Central and then north part of town. But, you know, our goal is to finish here very quickly and look forward to working with everybody and, and being successful with everybody on the team. The concept of TeamPharr comes from an initiative that we started a few years ago through the Quality Texas Foundation. it's a nonprofit that, that helps organizations in private industry and public sector work on doing process improvements. And we're very excited and very happy that this year we won the, their Governor's Award, which is given by the governor of the state of Texas as the, the best organization in the state. And hopefully here our goal is to go for the Malcolm Baldridge Award next year at the handed out by our president. And again, that's where that team concept, where everybody works as one and including, like I said, any partner that comes to work for us and with us, you know, we're all in it together.

Guillermo Aguilar (38:12):

Workforce, that's such an important component with 65 billion coming down. So Jose, I didn't even tell you about it. So, Texas a and m just contacted us that they have a 10 million grant for training. So Lean Six Sigma, the similar types of things that y'all are doing with the Texas Quality Foundation and the White House Baldridge effort. So now we can start spreading amongst our peers, some of the other counties, cities, you know, some of this same type of training, not just in, in Lean Six Sigma, for example, but project management osha, construction safety, et cetera, et cetera. So that's just such an important component, component that we need to be able to scale this type of, of endeavor across the country.

Christopher Mitchell (38:53):

thank you, thank you both so much for, for taking the time. Thank you for leading these efforts and making them make sure they get done. it's been wonderful having you on.

Jose Pena (39:01):

Thank you very much for having us and again, look forward to speaking later on. And like I said, we're always available in case you ever have any questions.

Guillermo Aguilar (39:10):

Thanks, Christopher.

Ry (39:11):

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